Children's Book Review: The Night Fairy

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Candlewick, $16.99, 9780763636746/0763636746, 128p., ages 7-11, February 2010)

Laura Amy Schlitz, who took us deep into a medieval village in her Newbery Medal–winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, here allows us to inhabit the fascinating miniature world where fairies dwell. Every squirrel, bird or bat can pose a threat to Flory, a night fairy, "born a little before midnight when the moon was full." In fact, it was a bat that mistook her for a luna moth and crumpled Flory's wings. Now she must operate as a day fairy, taking cover in a wren house in the garden of a "giantess" (who rather resembles Barbara Cooney, with "white braids that crisscrossed over her head"). The same traits that make Flory a spunky survivor also make her not so easy to befriend. There's no one to teach her manners ("A fairy godmother is an excellent thing, but a fairy mother is a disaster"). Still, she strikes up a sort of arrangement with a squirrel named Skuggle: she helps him develop a strategy for getting seeds, and he gives her a lift every now and again. What Flory really pines for, however, is a flight on the back of a hummingbird. And opportunity strikes when one gets trapped in the web of a black-and-yellow fanged and venomous spider. In the process of attempting a rescue, the hummingbird, spider and the bat who forced Flory into her daytime predicament all come together in surprising ways to teach Flory the meaning of regret and forgiveness. All along the way, Schlitz plants tantalizing facts about the natural world (for instance, hummingbirds go into "torpor... when they run out of strength, they slow their bodies down").

Angela Barrett endows Flory's world of cherry blossom gowns and flights on hummingbird wings with the same sumptuousness she lent to The Emperor's New Clothes. She creates glorious full-color watercolors that are reproduced in the actual size in which she rendered them for this intimate and elegantly designed 7.6" × 5.5" volume. Perhaps even more remarkable, the chapter openers, a mere ¾" × 1¾", were also created to scale in black watercolor, with a gray tone behind them that lends a dusky sheen. Text and watercolors work in tandem as a constant reminder of the tiny world we travel with Flory as our guide. Just right for those children ready to move beyond beginning readers, this adventure tale also makes an ideal read-aloud. No surprise, given the master storyteller at the helm. --Jennifer M. Brown

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